AS THE FEEDING OF THE FIVE THOUSAND precipitates the bread of life discourse, so Jesus’ healing of the congenitally blind man in John 9 precipitates some briefer comments on the nature of spiritual blindness and sight.
Some of the authorities were finding it difficult to believe that the victim had in fact been born blind. If it were the case, and if Jesus had really healed him, then this would say something about Jesus’ power that they did not want to hear. Then as now, there were plenty of “faith healers” in the land, but most of their work was not very impressive: the less gullible could easily dismiss most of the evidence of their success. But to give sight to a congenitally blind man — well, that was unheard of in faith-healing circles (9:32-33). Unable to respond to the straight-forward testimony of this man, the authorities resort to stereotyping and personal abuse (9:34).
Jesus meets up with him again, discloses more of himself to him, invites his faith, and accepts his worship (9:35-38). Then he makes two important utterances:
(1) “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind” (9” 39). In some ways, this is stock reversal, like the account of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), or the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14) — a common theme in the Gospels. But this reversal is in the realm of vision. Those who “see,” with all their principles of sophisticated discernment, are blinded by what Jesus says and does; those who are “blind,” the moral and spiritual equivalent of the man in this chapter who is born blind, to these Jesus displays wonderful compassion, and even gives sight.
Some Pharisees, overhearing Jesus’ comment and priding themselves on their discernment, are shocked into asking if Jesus includes them among the blind. This precipitates his second utterance.
(2) “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains” (9:41). Of course, Jesus might simply have replied “Yes!” to their question. But that would not have exposed the seriousness of their problem. By subtly changing the metaphor, Jesus drives home his point another way. Instead of insisting his opponents are blind, Jesus points out that they themselves claim to see — better than anyone else, for that matter. But that is the problem: those who are confident of their ability to see do not ask for sight. So (implicitly) they remain blind, with the culpable blindness of smug self-satisfaction. There are none so blind as those who do not know they are blind.